Mary Willingham is being chastised by Tar Heel fans and temporarily muted by her administration. They’re checking her results.
She is the North Carolina learning specialist who screened 182 Tar Heel athletes between 2004 and 2012 (85 percent were football and basketball players) and formulated a research paper showing that “about 60 percent had reading scores between fourth and eighth grade.” She called 10 percent of the athletes “functionally illiterate.”
This is the same university in which a now-departed African and Afro-American Studies scholar has been indicted for receiving $12,000 to teach a no-show class.
— Even if Willingham is 50 percent wrong, if her numbers are way off, isn’t her research a damning indictment of UNC’s operation? How can the school justify taking one athlete with sub-high school reading skills?
— If you’re fudging at the enrollment level, isn’t it a natural next step for advisers to direct athletes into phantom classes to cover that initial fraud?
— Is this an isolated case or are other universities even now scrambling to cover their own academic misconduct?
— Problems have been popping up like Redenbachers on the UNC campus since 2010. Are we to believe that one instructor, Julius Nyang’oro, worked alone in his deception when his course was just one of dozens — DOZENS — in that department that attracted UNC athletes and never met?
— How many win-at-any-cost operations are out there, creating a path for sub-marginal students and implying by their actions that they see no correlation between athletics and intelligence?
Seen this before
A scan of NCAA basketball champions since 1990 raises plenty of doubts.
It begins in 1990 with UNLV, whose coach, Jerry Tarkanian, waged a running battle with NCAA investigators for years. Who knows what really happened in Las Vegas?
North Carolina won in 1993 and 2005. We’re finally coming to an understanding of what’s going on there.
Kentucky, with titles in 1996, 1998 and 2012, is operating like a Pony Express station, star athletes stopping there just long enough to change horses. Coach John Calipari has seen his Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis vacated, and his rent-a-player system at Kentucky has made a mockery of the student-athlete concept. What is the Wildcat graduation rate?
UConn won championships in 2004 and 2011, but it was ineligible for the tournament last season due to a failed academic progress rate.
Within the Big Ten, we watched cheating blowups take down Michigan and Indiana basketball operations, only to see them rise again from those ashes. And Ohio State has demonstrated to Penn State how to bounce back from NCAA football sanctions, both unrelated to academics.
Show some class
Academic fraud is merely one piece of the basketball puzzle, but there are clear academic-related reasons why (1) the Big Ten harks back to Michigan State in 2000 for its only NCAA title since 1990, (2) of 25 top-performing freshmen, 24 are attending schools outside the Big Ten and (3) elites in the upcoming freshman class are similarly uninterested in this conference.
We are flooded with hints that systems exist throughout this country with the primary goal of helping marginal students enroll and stay eligible. If you think North Carolina is the only one, I have a Ponzi scheme you might be interested in.
There are connivers out there gaming the system. All the time. Just like the doping experts who stay one step ahead of the tests for performance-enhancing drugs. For NCAA investigators, this is like swatting flies in an Alabama summer. As a sleuth, wouldn’t you be suspicious after reading an AP study showing that, at 39 schools responding, 50 percent of football players were clustered in one, two or three majors?
Look up. We’re just a few weeks removed from Florida State celebrating its football championship. This is the same school that five years ago was put on probation (among other penalties) for major academic violations involving 61 athletes in nine sports. The race between Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno ultimately revolved around who’d have to forfeit the most victories.
Cheating is too frequent to list them all, too rampant for a realist to take seriously this so-called fun-and-games department. And if the UI has always been clean from an academic standpoint, the past impacts the present with the “slush fund” scandal of 1966, the Mike White ouster after the 1987 season, and the Deon Thomas incident around 1990 ... all essentially related to extra benefits.
My last questions: Is the UI in the minority with its stringent approach to academics? Doesn’t “the word” spread and, as an ill-prepared student, wouldn’t you have felt a lot more comfortable getting free grades at North Carolina than taking finals?
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.